There is growing concern that results of tightly controlled clinical trials may not generalize to broader community samples. To assess the proportion of community dwelling adults with cannabis dependence who would have been eligible for a typical cannabis dependence treatment study, we applied a standard set of eligibility criteria commonly used in cannabis outcome studies to a large (N=43,093) representative US adult sample interviewed face-to-face, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Approximately 80% of the community sample of adults with a diagnosis of cannabis dependence (N=133) would be excluded from participating in clinical trials by one or more of the common eligibility criteria. Individual study criteria excluded from 0% to 41.0% of the community sample. Legal problems, other illicit drug use disorders, and current use of fewer than 5 joints/week excluded the largest percentage of individuals. These results extend to cannabis dependence concerns that typical clinical trials likely exclude most community dwelling adults with the disorder. The results also support the notion that clinical trials tend to recruit highly selective samples, rather than adults who are representative of typical patients. Clinical trials should carefully evaluate the effects of eligibility criteria on the generalizability of their results. Even in efficacy trials, stringent exclusionary criteria could limit the representativeness of study results.
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